In 1973, French author and artist George Perec wrote a short essay titled “The Infra-Ordinary.” The opposite of extraordinary, and in contrast to the sensational, Perec encouraged readers to examine the everyday to find the space and time and poetry in the patterns of our everyday lives and the factors that most directly affect us.
In 1974, Perec wrote “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.”
One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the “infra-ordinary”: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday–“what happens,” as he put it, “when nothing happens.” His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice, where, ensconced behind first one cafe window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: the people walking by; the buses and driving-school cars caught in their routes; the pigeons moving suddenly en masse; a wedding (and then a funeral) at the church in the center of the square; the signs, symbols and slogans littering everything; and the darkness that finally absorbs it all. In An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Perec compiled a melancholic, slightly eerie and oddly touching document in which existence boils down to rhythm, writing turns into time and the line between the empirical and the surreal grows surprisingly thin.
As Perec sat at a cafe over the course of three days, he recorded literally everything he saw as he ‘exhausted the place’, and then presented the data simply, but thoughtfully.
As architects, we must be able to construct a process for understanding and modeling context and situation. We must be able to the organize that process for ourselves, and for others, so that we may trace the implications of that context and understanding. Our approach allows us to discover the specificities of a place – it’s fullness, its focus, its strengths and weaknesses, its form and its associations, and we must then learn to re-deploy these specificities, or form operatives for abstracting them back into our work. The clarity and depth of our research will translate into the quality of experiences in our buildings.
– develop patience and exhibit focus
– slow down. act deliberately. train yourself to find the time to think and generate ideas.
– produce quality through refinement.
– read, write, draw.
– perform real, quality research without even trying.
– perform field work
– invent new styles of documentation.
– visualize data
– develop means for measure and documentation.
– understand space and place through new perspectives and different lenses
– challenge traditional ways of view and representing space
This project will consist of 2 parts: recording and measurement.
Read George Perec’s ‘The Infra-Ordinary’ and ‘Attempts at Exhausting a Place’. Read them both fully, and consider spaces in Chicago where a similar study could be performed. Produce a few ‘napkin sketch’ concepts for presenting this information in ways other than the way Perec presented ‘Attempts’. In class, discuss the readings, and as a group, select a dynamic public space in the city. Then go, many times, to this place and record, as Perec did, the Infra-Ordinary. Record, without prejudice, all the elements, objects, uses, sounds, smells, etc, that compose the place. Produce a document that organizes your observations, and in doing so, captures the situation. Present that document. Refine it. Reproduce it.
Using one or more of the uses or elements or sounds or smells or colors that you recorded in Part 1, measure the space you documented. In this case, measure is the subjective variable. How you choose to measure, and how you choose to document the measurements are decisions that must be made. Produce a document that presents the space in a new light, form, context. Present that document. Refine it. Reproduce it.
Produce artful, creative and abstract documentation of the recorded data and the measured space.
1. What about the place is compelling to you? Why?
2. How long does it take to observe a place?
3. What do your observations make you curious about?
M 19 Aug project launch
W 21 Aug group discussion, site visit
F 23 Aug ‘record’ concept due, desk crits, lecture
M 26 Aug present ‘record’ document, discussion
W 28 Aug ‘record’ document due, in studio review
F 30 Aug fieldwork, measure
M 02 Sep Labor Day – no class
W 04 Sep draft ‘measure’ document due
F 06 Sep desk crits
M 09 Sep PRESENTATION
For both Part 1 and Part 2, produce drawings, sketches, collages, models, stories, narratives, sculpture, (i.e. anything), that communicate intent, and present the information you recorded and measured in a new perspective or through a different lens. Produce refined quality work, not initially, but in the end, like an architect.
1. Mapping – This American Life Episode: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/110/mapping
2. Jan Gehl. Life Between Buildings. Using Public Space.
3. Edward Tufte. Visual Explanations.
4. Guy DeBord